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The story behind "Rhoda Mary" and "Katie Cluett" A Dispute Settled

"Rhoda Mary" and "Katie Clewett" Rhoda Mary” and “Katie Cluett2 schooners, Cornish built by the Ferris / Trebilcock families, they were soon famous schooners.

The tale gets better;

Not only did “Rhoda Mary” and “Katie Cluett” soon become crack ships, both were Cornish built in the rival ports of Falmouth and Fowey.

They were built by different members of the same Cornish (Ferris) family!

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As trading vessels

There was a time when some 3 or 4 thousand little ships traded the coast of Britain, Europe and sometimes voyaged to North America.

The quickest, handiest and most graceful were the topsail schooners.

Among sea men it was generally considered two were exceptional.

It was often said based on passage times, “Rhoda Mary” and “Katie Cluett“, were the fastest and most elegant of the 4,000 ‘ish working schooners sailing from British ports between the 1870’s and 1930’s.

While “Rhoda Mary” and “Katie Cluett” had elegance and a functional beauty, they remained very much working ships. “Rhoda Mary” and “Katie Cluett” had no time for frivolity.

Daily they risked their all on dangerous coasts, summer and winter, come calm or storm.

These 2 hard driven schooners never had time for regattas or racing.

Built and maintained to an equivalent standard to superyachts, “Rhoda Mary” and “Katie Cluett” were considered the Cutty Sark” and “Thermopylae of the coast trade, crack ships.

Their task was to turn a tidy profit for shareholders.

Quick reliable passage making meant more cargos thus more returns on the investment.

Consequently voyage times were reported in the press and widely read with great interest.

As with the illustrious Tea Clippers, many a bet was laid on a ship’s arrival time!

However, once and only once did “Rhoda Mary” and “Katie Cluett” leave a port together.

They took the opportunity to race each other out of Falmouth Roads.

Family history

At Falmouth in the West of Cornwall some time according to Trebilcock family oral history, between 1904 and 1907 this matter long disputed by coastal seamen and Cornish families was settled when, once and only once, by chance these two great rivals came to port together, at Falmouth, Cornwall.

Can you imagine the scene?

The 2 crews and maybe owners must have met at Falmouth, maybe drank and ate together?

Our painting dramatically captures some thing of the excitement as “Rhoda Mary” and “Katie Cluett” pass St Mawes and with St Anthony’s Lighthouse and Fraggle Rock abeam they taste the open sea.

We see them as they clear the entrance to Carrick Roads and enter Falmouth Bay.

The schooners surge passed the inbound sloop “Mary“, also a family vessel.

Mary” has brailed her main sail to take off way and is speaking with the “Rhoda Mary“; the crews of all 3 craft busy with their tasks are impressive as are other details like St Mawes Castle and even the now long vanished bell on St Anthony’s light.

(“Fraggle Rock” Lighthouse later to the delight of Falmouthian,s was made famous in a children’s program).

The carefully chosen view point and background, the dramatic angle, the vitality, the understanding of ships, wind, sea, even of the tasks the crew are shown working on – if asked “do you paint portraits?”, Gordon Frickers has been known to reply “yes mostly about 1 cm high!”.

The painting classically demonstrates Gordon Frickers experience as sailor, painter and photographer.

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Designed and built

The Ferris and Trebilcock families have a very long association with the sea, for example the name Ferris appears as an R.N. Captain, several times in the Naval Chronicle of the war against Napoleon.

Rhoda Mary” was built by William Ferris; “Rhoda Mary” was launched off the beach at the mouth of Restronguet Creek, Falmouth in 1868.

It is still possible to see on the beach, the remains of were ships were built.

Rhoda Mary” entered the hard life of coastal cargo trading around Northern Europe – where she proved to be exceptionally quick and reliable.

The sloop “Mary” of similar origin and sturdy reputation, spent her life mostly carrying Granite from the Lizard to Falmouth.

Around 1870, Peter Ferris left his brother William Ferris to build “Katie Cluett” probably at Caffa Mill, certainly at the port of Fowey, a few miles up the coast of Cornwall and she was launched in 1876.

Katie Cluett“, similar in appearance to “Rhoda Mary” and also named after a sweetheart soon proved to be an other flier.

Both ships were named after family sweet hearts, both spent their lives voyaging with cargo, summer and winter, in most hazardous waters without the benefit of modern navigational aids.

If you have other information about these 3 ships, we would be doubly pleased to hear from you via contact us

The artist knows these people and waters well having lived at Falmouth and Fowey, and still sometimes sails with and against the descendants.

“A dispute settled”, commissioned by descendants of the winner, this painting is a glimpse of that day and proudly records “Rhoda Mary‘s” victory for posterity.

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© Gordon Frickers 2008

A Dispute SettledHistory of the painting

A dispute settled” was:

shown for the first time at Pendennis Castle and the picture chosen as a delegates memento for the British Marine Federation / Superyachtuk “International Tour of Excellence 2008”.

Published as a greetings card by Gordon Fraser Gallery 1990 under a 5 year licence agreement.

This painting has never been exhibited in public.

Some Sources consulted included:

The World Ship Society

The National Maritime Museum (Greenwich and Cotehelle)

There is a fine model of “Rhoda Mary“, last seen by Gordon Frickers and photographed with their kind permission (as the painting was to be for family descendants) in the National Maritime Museum annex at Cotehelle Quay.

Rhoda Mary” and “Katie Cluett” are mentioned in several books including the rare “Coastwise Sail” and Basil, Greenhill’s “Merchant Schooners”.

Our paintings Waterwitch off Gribben Head shows the last of the British square rigger and The schooner “Jane Banks” leaving Fowey a typical running mate to “Rhoda Mary” and “Katie Cluett“.